Monday, April 4, 2016



Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte

The path of the writer can be a lonely one.  Few become best selling authors or have their stories turned into screenplays that become blockbuster movies. 

You write and you write.  Other authors sign their books that you purchased at the signing with the words ‘keep on writing” even if they have never read a word of your work, and it makes you feel warm and connected anyway. 

Acknowledgment for the writer can be sparse and at times, completely absent.  The love of words and the spinning of the tale keeps many of us going. 

In his 1970’s piece, “Why I Write”, my college creative writing teacher and mentor, John Eckels, shared one of his reasons for writing through the lens of the times:

“I am writing under obligation. Although I feel that I owe a debt of love to each person in the world---partially because of my extreme awareness that we share a common beginning and ending---I do not believe that such brutal agony which now my heart knows and utters would be demanded by any human being alive.  I then, am writing under obligation…to the hope of all things as they converge and form, what I in my impetuous humility about “I”, and what I with deliberate pride whisper “I.”

Inspired (or bedeviled?) by the obligation, I continue… I write on, for when obligation has a man, it has him for life.”

It was through this lens of obligation and hope that I began my writing career. Along the way, I have grown and changed and my writing has done the same.  Some forty years after my graduation from college, I was given the opportunity to look back on those years and write an article for the alumni magazine.  The piece, about my experiences as a woman of color at a prestigious women’s college in the 1970’s, met with mixed reviews.  Those who loved it were touched by it.  Those who hated it seemed to hate me as well for writing it. Except for one email from an alumna who said she was moved by it, the article seemed to have been largely ignored. Or so I thought until today, when this arrived via email (names removed for privacy):

“Hi Sheryl,

I wanted to take a moment to pass along some compliments paid to you by another alumna…She wrote the M Center about getting a copy of her transcript and sent them the following:

"I will be requesting my transcripts because I received a job offer from the University of Wisconsin.

For my in person interview, I was asked to make a speech on "engaging alumni/alumnae to recruit international students." I was given the theme ahead of time, and I had no idea how to approach the subject. One day I happened to start reading my Mills Quarterly from back in the Fall of 2015. (I keep them all!) There was an article on "Pride and Pain; Coming of age as a black woman at Mills" by Sheryl Bize-Boutte. It was about her experiences at Mills, as a member of the entering class of black women in 1969. She wrote a newspaper column, "Sheryl Raps," and the title of one of her columns was "Mills Thrusts White Values on Black Students." She was writing about "what she saw wrong at Mills, and...was given absolute freedom to do so."

Reading this article touched me very deeply. I started thinking about the theme of my speech for the UW interview, and decided to use the "approach" of  how/why alumni/alumnae are inspired to recruit students. In other words, alumni/alumnae must be  truly inspired by their alma maters, obviously, if they are to help recruit. I took Sheryl's article with me to Wisconsin, and read to my audience from her article. I am not a black woman, but I grew up in the South in the '60s and '70s and had friends who had to deal with similar struggles as she. It was so beautifully written.

To summarize: I wanted to thank Mills College as a place that has always encouraged absolute freedom of expression---even when the expression is controversial. I can't tell you how proud I am to be a Mills graduate. And, by the way, I think sharing Sheryl's article with the University of Wisconsin folks contributed to my being selected for the position."

She added in a later message that you are an incredible writer and have touched so many alumnae with your words.

Thank you!”

Back in 1970, Professor Eckels helped me to tune my voice.  He helped me to understand and embrace my obligation.  An obligation that feeds my motivation to keep writing.

 And on a day like today, an obligation that answers the “why” and brings me immeasurable joy.

Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte is the author of “A Dollar Five: Stories From a Baby Boomer’s Ongoing Journey” and “All That and More’s Wedding” both available at and other major booksellers.  Her article “Pride and Pain; Coming of Age as a Black Woman at Mills” can be read at:

copyright ©  2016 by Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte

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